Even though it looks like we have weathered the pandemic, for now, the question about what the future holds continues to loom. How can associations continue to plan for the seemingly unplannable? One way to set yourself up for success is to have a plan B – or contingency plan. These plans help us identify potential hazards, giving association events the foresight to implement emergency protocols and create a seamless transition from plan A to plan B.

Below are some tips on creating an event contingency plan that will keep you calm, cool, and collected when planning your in-person, hybrid, or virtual events — no matter what comes your way.

Identify the Risks

Create a complete list of all possible risks and solutions in case of an emergency.

  1. The decline of in-person attendance / Change to travel rules

With people having to self-isolate every week, there are likely to be many cases of staff and delegates unable to attend the event on the day. Consider moving to a hybrid event to allow those who cannot be there in person the opportunity to still attend. And, of course, account for a chunk of your association members not attending, as dropout rates are likely to be higher than ever before.

  1. Weather takes a turn for the worse.

If you plan to use outdoor space for your event, is there a backup plan in the event of rain? If the weather forecast coming towards the date looks inclement, prepare ahead with things you need like increased water access or other cooling additions for heat, extra tents, or umbrellas. If the weather calls for rain, this is likely above and beyond what you originally planned, so sourcing it as far out as the weather forecast allows is helpful.

Defined landmarks for action: i.e., “if the temperature is above X degrees, we will choose to move or cancel outdoor portions of the event, or if it is above X degrees, service of extra water or extra options for shade will be used” etc. Know ahead of time what markers trigger what actions so that when it happens, all team members know the plan and can quickly implement it.

  1. Tech Problems

The best-laid plans sometimes fail too. The best way to plan for this is to have an experienced event information technologist and AV tech on hand to help if things go wrong. This is especially important if your event is entirely virtual or hybrid, and the attendees are becoming increasingly frustrated at their blank screens.

  1. Health and Safety

Keeping your association member’s health and safety is one of the most important topics as we think about how we approach our events. We must do everything we can to reduce the risk and create a safe environment for our attendees, speakers, and our staff.

  1. Potential for new restrictions

With the constant changes to restrictions on what we can and can’t do, it’s difficult to keep track of the rules around events. Keep on top of the latest changes by following us by regularly checking the government website. Stay flexible and be prepared to change to a different event format at the last minute.

All the above helps understand the ins and outs of the event and leads to greater confidence in the planning and organization. Once you understand the big picture, you can focus on what you can do to move things forward during an emergency instead of stressing over it.

Prioritize the Risks – Put the plan in place

Once you have identified the risks to your association event, you should start thinking about how to implement the plan. Prioritize the risks by the impact they have on your event. Outline any current measures you have in place and the alternative arrangements that will make sure to reduce the risks. Assigning dedicated roles and responsibilities for each team member to coincide with the risk will help to keep things in check. This will most definitely need to include a couple of tech staff; It can be someone who is constantly in touch with the speakers, whether the event is in person or virtual.

Your members are more likely to abandon your event if you show them that you cannot handle a crisis. An event contingency plan will allow you to show clients, investors, and competitors that your organization is resilient and prepared to handle any risk without it affecting your service.

Communication is Key – Reaching out to vendors.

Open lines of communication are crucial to your event contingency plan. If new rules or changes are introduced that may impact your event, you should speak with your vendors, suppliers, and venue to discuss their latest policies. Understand their terms and conditions, cancellation and refund policies, and any opportunities for flexibility on dates, times, and numbers.

Keep in contact with your attendees to communicate any changes to their travel arrangements and logistics. Create an emergency chain of command using the staff on hand. Ensure all important on-site numbers are visible for all, i.e., hotel emergency numbers, local police, fire and ambulance, pharmacies and drug stores, and the closest walk-in clinic.

Practice the Plan

No matter how detailed and well thought out any contingency plan is, it is not of any value without practice. Practicing the plan at least once a year or twice would be helpful. The opportunities to learn from each practice will help refine and streamline the contingency plans for better employee safety and an enhanced company reputation.

The specifics will vary depending on the reason for the plan implementation but running through it is a useful exercise. It will help you spot areas you might not be able to predict in advance and keep everyone involved informed.

Key Takeaways – Being a Creative Problem Solver

Your association event contingency plan isn’t just a preparedness exercise; it’s an opportunity to help your team learn how to become more graceful and creative with problem-solving.

Everyone needs to develop this skill, from the event management team developing a contingency plan to the IT team planning for a possible tech failure. In times of uncertainty and constant change, thinking through potential problems and alternatives in advance is part of life.

When things go haywire, your plan won’t just minimize the potential impact; it will empower your team to succeed in uncertainty as they respond to whatever gets thrown their way.

Read more about Association Events in my coworker’s article https://strauss.ca/your-guide-to-networking-at-in-person-association-events/